If hearing loss is the invisible disability, then sound is the invisible threat. Without even being aware of it, the sounds we subject ourselves to could be initiating permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly year after year.
Who’s in danger of hearing loss?
A regular conversation registers at a volume of roughly 60 decibels. City traffic registers at about 80, a rock concert at 100, a sporting event at 105, a power saw at 110, and a shotgun blast at an earsplitting 145.
Here’s the problem: repetitive subjection to any sound above 85 decibels can lead to irreversible hearing loss. That’s why hearing protection is especially crucial for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.
But it’s not as simple as just staying clear of the sound. Most of us are unwilling to abandon our jobs or forgo attending concerts just to ensure that we can hear better when we get older. The only solution is a compromise: protecting our hearing by decreasing the volume of the sounds we’re exposed to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Custom versus disposable earplugs
The objective of any earplug is obvious: reduce the volume of sound. And though it’s true that any earplug can achieve this, it turns out that it’s not that simple, for two reasons:
- All sound is not created equal—The sounds of speech are much different than the sounds of background noise. You want to suppress more of the background noise than of speech or music.
- Sound is dynamic—different frequencies necessitate different handling, and volume shouldn’t be reduced by too much or by too little.
So, for an earplug to be effective, it has to 1) limit the volume of sound, but not by too much or too little, and 2) manage various types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.
As you’ll discover, custom earplugs achieve these two feats much better than foam earplugs and have the edge in three crucial categories: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Disposable foam earplugs block out all sound and all frequencies, creating what is called the occlusion effect for the user, which is the sense of a “hollow” or “booming” echo-like sound in their own voice. Foam earplugs therefore reduce all-around sound quality and create a confined feeling.
Custom earplugs, on the other hand, have special filters for a precise, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be customized to reduce volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter specific types of sound more than others, preserving the quality of music and speech.
Foam earplugs, to be effective, have to form a deep seal within the ear canal, creating a constant feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” feeling is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, on the other hand, are cast to the contours of each patient’s ears by a hearing professional, creating a secure, natural fit without the feeling of constant pressure. Custom earplugs are also created with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change shape.
In addition, foam earplugs are unable to adjust well to differences in ear size and shape. Since custom earplugs are specially molded for each patient, variations in ear size and shape present no problem at all.
Let’s perform some quick calculations, starting with foam earplugs.
Assume that you work in a profession that requires the daily use of earplugs. Assuming an average cost of $0.19 per pair, with use on 5 days a week over 4 years, the total cost would be:
$0.19 X 5 days X 52 weeks X 4 years = $197.60 total cost.
(Also bear in mind the environmental cost: over four years you’d be disposing 1,040 pairs of earplugs!)
Let’s compare that $197 to the cost of a pair of custom earplugs.
A top quality pair of custom earplugs can last four years or more, but let’s just say four. Most custom earplugs cost under $100, so your overall cost after four years is less than half the cost of the disposable earplugs—and you’ll receive better sound quality and comfort in return.
Not to mention that by wearing the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll avoid the waste associated with discarding over 1,000 pairs of foam earplugs.
Custom molded earplugs and disposable earplugs will both reduce volume and protect your hearing, but that’s where the similarities end. Custom earplugs have far better sound quality, are more comfortable, and cost you and the environment, in the long run, much less.